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Learn To Read Guitar Tab Sheet Music and Keep Dreaming Out Loud

4 mins read

Learning to play the guitar is the start of a musical journey that begins with guitar tab sheet music and ends . . . basically never. An instrument whose music spans nearly every genre, the guitar seems easy to master.

However, once you start practicing, you appreciate the perspective of Michael Hedges, American songwriter and virtuoso acoustic guitarist, who said, “I’m not trying to play the guitar. I’m trying to play music.” To grow your skill as a guitarist, no matter your genre and style, it’s wise to start with the relative simplicity of guitar tablature.

What Are the Three Types of Guitar Music?

When it comes to musical notation, guitar players have something of an advantage over other instruments. Depending on your playing level and context, you have the choice of three types of sheet music for the guitar.

1. Guitar Tab or Tablature

Guitar tab sheet music is a musical notation system designed specifically for guitar. Tab, or tablature, represents the location you need to press your fingers on the frets, using numbered notes arranged on horizontal lines. It’s easier to read than standard notation because you don’t need prior knowledge of musical symbols and note names. As a result, guitar tab sheet music is an excellent place for new guitarists to begin their musical journey.

2. Standard Notation

Other instruments, including voice, typically consider “reading music” as being able to read standard notation. You need to learn standard notation while playing an accompaniment or with an ensemble. Standard notation keeps you in time with the other musicians and also allows you to hear the piece in your mind when you’re practicing on your own

3. Chord Diagrams

Chord diagrams are the most basic form of musical notation for guitar. Brand-new players need only use the diagrams to learn the chords for a song, then attend to the chord names as they change throughout the song. Sheet music often includes chord diagrams at the top of the page, followed by a list of chord names. This simplicity level means you can play many songs without knowing how to read guitar tab or standard notation.

Photo by Elina Sazonova
Photo by Elina Sazonova

Why You Need To Learn Guitar Tab Sheet Music

For guitarists with a goal of mastery and playing real music, reading guitar tab is a critical step toward a more diverse skill set and the ability to play in multiple genres. Since the tab shows you where to place your hands on the frets, the guitar tab allows you to focus on practicing efficient movement between frets without quite as much stress. If you’re a band member, a guitar tab is a quick way to learn songs for performance.

How To Read Guitar Tab

Guitar tab sheet music consists of six horizontal lines representing the six strings of the guitar Numbers on these lines show the notes of a chord or melody. More precisely, the numbers indicate which fret of the string you should hold down with your fretting hand. Your playing or strumming hand then plucks the string to sound the note.

Right-handed players fret notes with their left hand and pick, strum or pluck with the right, while lefties do the opposite. One of the limitations of guitar tab sheet music, whether you’re right or left-handing, is that the numbers don’t suggest which finger should hold down the string at the fret. That lack is why you should take the time to carefully work through the entire piece to determine the most efficient way to switch between notes and chords.

Photo by Christpher
Photo by Christpher

Which Musical Styles Use Guitar Tab Sheet Music?

Most guitar tab sheet music is composed for acoustic and electric guitar, as the complexities of classical music don’t generally transcribe as easily or beautifully into guitar tab. However, although it’s not as common, you can find classical and more “serious” music, such as Debussy’s “Clair de Lune,” transcribed to guitar tab sheet music for classical guitar players. Confident and accomplished guitarists listen to and learn to play a diverse range of musical genres and styles.


This style is, in many ways, where modern guitar playing originated. From the early days of ragtime and boogie-woogie to rockabilly, hard rock and other innovations from current artists, blues music has shaped and deepened the way the world plays guitar. Learn to play blues on guitar tab sheet music to improve the following skills:

• phrasing, pacing and tone
• slide guitar
• fingerstyle playing
• double stops
• dyads
• rhythm guitar grooves


Defining rock music is, in a word, impossible. By its very nature, rock music, and related genres like rock n’ roll, pop, hard rock, heavy metal, progressive rock, and so many more, are an eclectic and revolutionary mix of sounds and styles. Guitar tab sheet music is particularly suited to rock for that reason because the simplicity of the markings gives you room for mastering techniques such as:

• hammer-ons and pull-offs
• hybrid picking
• Travis picking
• tapping
• rhythm guitar
• improvisation

Other Genres

Sometimes you want to play the music that you love, just because you love it and not to practice new skills. Guitar tab sheet music for these popular genres is usually easy to find, and they’re certain to make your practice sessions that much more fun.

Film and T.V. soundtracks

Favorites from the silver screen are a fun departure from typical rock or traditional jazz music. The ever-popular Star Wars series, composed by John Williams, are always crowd-pleasers (even if you’re an audience of one), and their familiarity makes reading the guitar tab sheet music a snap.


Playing with your worship team is much easier when you use tablature. Hymns, gospel music and Christian Contemporary all benefit from the unique sound of a guitar, and even beginning players can keep up with their fellow musicians.

Where Can You Find Guitar Tab To Print or Download?

Whether you’re ready to “dream out loud” like Michael Hedges or just want to play your favorite gospel tune, you can find the guitar tab sheet music online at various sheet music retailers. Your guitar music journey can take you places you never imagined, especially if you start out with a solid knowledge of guitar tab.

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